What is philosophy-of-science? And why is this needed?
In every research discipline, there are various schools of thought that
rely on different basic assumptions and different theories and methods —
thus, on different paradigms. But the basic assumptions underlying a given
paradigm are not always made explicit. This complicates collaborations
between scientists from different traditions and disciplines. In her new
research trilogy, Jana Uher explored the “theories behind the theories and
methods” — the metatheories and methodologies—that are used to study
individuals in various fields. This abstract level of exploration is
referred to as philosophy-of-science. She demands that scientists make
explicit their most basic assumptions and critically reflect on possible
biases that they themselves may have introduced into their research. In
research on individuals, this is particularly important because scientists
are always individuals themselves; therefore, scientists studying
individuals are not independent from their objects of research. This
profound problem is often not well considered.
A new scientific paradigm for research on individuals
It has been long known that a comprehensive understanding of individuals
requires the joint expertise of multiple disciplines. But theories and
methods from different disciplines cannot be easily combined, and the
findings often cannot be directly compared. Therefore, Jana Uher has
explored the “theories behind the theories and methods” – the metatheories
and methodologies - that researchers from different disciplines have
developed about individuals. On this abstract level of consideration – in
science, referred to as philosophy-of-science – she specified three
properties that determine the ways in which humans can perceive a given
phenomenon. As all scientists are humans, these three properties also
determine the methods needed to overcome the limitations of human
perception for enabling scientific investigations. On the basis of these
properties, Jana Uher developed research frameworks that are applicable
across the sciences and that are integrated in the Transdisciplinary
Philosophy-of-Science Paradigm. This new paradigm therefore provides
important tools for bridging gaps between disciplines and for enabling
What is "personality"?
There is hardly anything that is as central to anyone’s life as
“personality”, which is unique and distinctive for every individual.
But what is it that we call “personality”? And why are there so many
different definitions? These questions were explored by Jana Uher.
In a comprehensive trilogy of research papers, she has investigated
the meta-theories – the “theories behind the theories” – that
scientists have developed about individuals and “personality”. This
metatheoretical perspective sheds new light on the many existing
definitions of “personality” and unravels the commonalities and
differences between them.
Comparison of "personality" differences between four monkey species: A
novel methodology to unravel communalities and differences
"Personality" differences have already been demonstrated in the behaviour
of many species. But how similar or distinct are the "personality"
differences described for different species? In her new study, Jana Uher
introduces a comprehensive research methodology for systematic
cross-species comparisons. Their application in four monkey species from
four different continents reveals many commonalities but also exiting
"Personality" differences but no sex differences in the individual
behaviour of four monkey species from three different continents
In their appearance, the sexes differ from one another in many animal
species. Males are often bigger and physically stronger than females. But
sex differences in body morphology need not go along with sex differences
in behaviour as a recent study on monkeys showed. In each of four species,
stable individual behavioural differences-thus, "personality"
differences-occurred but sex differences were largely absent. These
findings shed new light on many evolutionary psychologists' assumption
that sex differences in human behaviour inevitably result from the bodily
differences between men and women and thus constitute an evolutionary
heritage of humans.
differences - not as universal as previously thought
In capuchin monkeys, as in many species, males are larger
than females. Are males also more bold, more explorative and less anxious
than females? Far from it. A new study revealed that capuchin monkeys show
hardly any sex differences in their individual behaviours. These findings
shed new light on an age-old question.
Human's "personality glasses" - why we form impressions of
individuals. New insights into a uniquely human ability
The ability to quickly form impressions of other
individuals' "personality" seems to be a uniquely human ability.
A 3-year cross-species study of 104 crab-eating macaques and 99
human observers of these monkeys further explored this
fascinating human ability. The study illuminated the ways in
which judgements of individuals are influenced by beliefs about
age, status and sex differences that are rooted in our everyday
knowledge and that tend to be stereotypical. These intuitive
beliefs are like glasses through which we form impressions of
the "personality" of individuals. These beliefs even affect how
we judge individuals of other species! The study unravels common
mistakes that we make when forming impressions of individuals.
But despite widespread inaccuracies and mistakes, the ability to
quickly form impressions of strangers could have been of
enormous importance in human evolution: It enabled our ancestors
to trade with unknown individuals of foreign cultures, and it
was also an essential prerequisite for the domestication of
animals. An exciting study about humans and monkeys from
When Biologists and Psychologists talk at cross-purposes
No one alike - "personality" differences in the great apes
Misunderstandings in communication happen every day—and this also
happens in the sciences. A new study explored the “theories behind
the theories” on “personality” and individual differences and
unravelled fundamental misunderstandings between biologists and
psychologists. These misunderstandings not only hamper collaborative
research across disciplines; but they can also mislead the
development of theories. This is an all-too-common story about how
language can produce understanding and misunderstanding. A story
that can also be told in the sciences.
Great apes are human's closest living relatives. Their cognitive
abilities have been investigated and compared to those of humans for a
long time. But so far, researchers have largely ignored the pronounced
individuality of great apes and have dismissed them as purely
anthropomorphic ideas. At the Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary
Anthropology in Leipzig, Jana Uher developed new research methodologies
and approaches to explore the pronounced individual differences in the
great apes. Her comprehensive studies in the Leipzig Zoo systematically
demonstrate individual-specific behaviours - i.e., "personality"
differences - in the great apes.